Mortgage Interest Rates

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Likely the largest debt you'll ever take on, a mortgage, is a loan to finance the purchase of your home.

Your home is collateral for the loan, which is also a legal contract you sign to promise that you'll pay the debt, with interest and other costs, typically over 15 to 30 years.

If you don't pay the debt, the lender has the right to take back the property and sell it to cover the debt. To repay the debt, you make monthly installments or payments that typically include the principal, interest, taxes and insurance, together known as PITI.

Principal: The principal is simply the sum of money you borrowed to buy your home. Before the principal is financed you can give the lender a sum of cash called a down payment to reduce the amount of money that will be financed.

Interest: Usually expressed as a percentage called the interest rate, interest is what the lender charges you to use the money you borrowed. As well as the given rate, the lender could also charge you points, and additional loan costs. Each point is one percent of the financed amount and is financed along with the principal.

Principal and interest comprise the bulk of your monthly payments in a process called amortization, which reduces your debt over a fixed period of time. With amortization, your monthly payments are largely interest during the early years and principal later.

In addition to your principal and interest, your mortgage payment could include money that's deposited in an escrow or trust account to pay certain taxes and insurance.

Generally, if your down payment is less than 20 percent, your lender considers your loan riskier than those with larger down payments. To offset that risk, the lender sets up the escrow account to collect those additional expenses, which are rolled into your monthly mortgage payment.

Taxes: The taxes are property taxes your community levies based on a percentage of the value of your home. The tax is generally used to help finance the cost of running your community, say to build schools, roads, infrastructure and other needs. You must pay property taxes even if you don't need an escrow account and even after your mortgage is paid off.

Insurance: Lenders won't let you close the deal on your home purchase if you don't have home insurance, which covers your home and your personal property against losses from fire, theft, bad weather and other causes. Even if you pay cash for your home, you should buy home insurance unless you can afford to repair or rebuild your home if it's damaged or destroyed.

Fixed Rate Mortgages

Lenders offer several types of mortgages, but the most common are fixed-rate mortgages. These loans feature fixed rates and monthly payments, generally for 15-year and 30-year periods. They're popular because:

  • Consumers balk at the thought of their house payment rising and falling with interest rates.
  • Whenever rates are low, fixed-rate mortgages are very affordable.

Fixed-rate borrowers face one major choice: 15-year or 30? For some, a 30-year loan makes more sense. For others, a 15-year one does. Here are some pros and cons of each.

Adjustable Rate Mortgages

Adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, differ from fixed-rate mortgages in that the interest rate and monthly payment move up and down as market interest rates fluctuate. Most have an initial fixed-rate period during which the borrower's rate doesn't change, followed by a much longer period during which the rate changes at preset intervals.

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